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What is Blue Light and How Does it Affect My Skin?

Finding yourself in front of a screen more often these days? If so, you’re exposing your skin to the damaging effects of blue light. Here’s everything you need to know about blue light and skin.

So what’s the deal with blue light and skin? Is phone light bad for skin? Here, we explain what blue light is and how to protect your skin from its damaging effects.

You may already be pretty familiar with ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which comes directly from the sun itself. These rays wreak havoc on our delicate skin and over time can result in all sorts of damage ranging from hyperpigmentation to dryness to premature wrinkling to—worst of all—skin cancer. And many sunscreens protect against these dangerous rays.

However, the full spectrum of light encompasses other harmful things that can be damaging to your skin, including blue light. Here’s what you should know about blue light and skin.

OK, so what exactly is blue light?

Light exists on a rainbow spectrum that ranges from UV (purple) all the way to infrared radiation (red). The sun produces all these various forms, and each affects the skin in ways that vary according to their wavelengths and the amount of energy they put off. The only light that’s technically visible to us is blue through infrared, so it makes sense that this section of the spectrum is referred to as “visible light.”

True to that ol’ ROYGBIV acronym, blue light sits right next to UV on this colorful spectrum. Given its proximity to UV rays, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that blue light puts off a lot of energy. In fact, it’s also referred to as “high energy visible light” or HEVL.

While the sun is responsible for casting this blue light, it’s important to note that blue light is also emitted from artificial sources. The artificial sources you’re most familiar with? Your laptop, iPad, TV, phone, and basically any other screen you interact with throughout the day. It can even be emitted from light bulbs!

Is blue light damaging to skin?

Given that blue light is literally everywhere—and that many of us spend a whopping average of 10 hours per day in front of a screen (and probably more right now!)—understanding how blue light and skin connect is super important.

Remember how we talked about how blue light has high energy? Well, those high energy levels mean that blue light can reach into the deep layers of our skin—beyond the surface, beyond the epidermis and dermis, and straight into what’s called the “hypodermis” layer. The more we’re exposed to blue light, the greater its effects are. Over time, it can cause hyperpigmentation, including the formation of age spots and melasma.

Like UV rays, blue light also causes the formation of free radicals. To make a long explanation short: free radicals are unpaired electrons. Electrons like to travel with a friend, but blue light and UV rays can cause them to become separated—much like when you’re hanging out with your partner in crime at a crowded party and lose each other.

Once the electrons become separated they start spazzing out and, in an attempt to rebalance themselves, they’ll grab onto anything nearby. When these single electrons attach themselves to your skin cells it can cause some serious damage, including elastin and collagen breakdown.

Basically, free radical damage expedites the process of aging and leads to dullness, saggy skin, wrinkles, and age spots.

Blue light can reach into the deep layers of our skin—beyond the surface, beyond the epidermis and dermis, and straight into what’s called the “hypodermis” layer.

Blue light and your eyes:

A spot you should pay extra special attention to when it comes to blue light is the skin around your eyes. “The under eye skin is particularly sensitive because it is so thin,” says NYC board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Farber. “It’s among the most susceptible on the body because depletion of collagen or any volume loss can easily lead to a hollowed look. Vessels and delicate structures underneath the eye become more visible after repeat exposure to blue light (think late night TV and cell phone use).”

How to protect yourself from blue light:

Don’t get too discouraged just yet, because there’s light at the end of the tunnel! Thanks to scientific advancements and breakthrough sunscreen formulations, you can protect yourself from blue light damage. Here, we’re outlining ingredients to look for to help protect your skin from this stressor…

Red Algae

While many forms of algae thrive near the water’s surface, red algae live in deeper parts of the ocean where only blue and UV light can reach them. As such, they’ve adapted a mechanism that allows them to absorb blue light in order to survive at these depths.

Butterfly Bush Extract

Let’s travel from the depths of the ocean to the tippy top of Chinese mountains. At this high altitude, where UV radiation is at its most extreme, you’ll find the butterfly bush. This ingredient is a very powerful antioxidant, meaning it protects against the free radical damage we discussed above.

Cocoa peptides & Cerium

Cocoa peptides can help protect skin from blue light by targeting free radicals.

Poke around on the periodic table of elements and you’ll come across Cerium (Ce), a rare and translucent mineral. Cerium oxide, which is a mixture of both cerium and oxygen, can shield your skin from blue light.

Winter Cherry

Winter cherry is plant that grows in southeast Asia and its leaves and fruit are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Winter cherry extract can also be used in skincare to protect skin from atmospheric pollution and blue light.

Wild Butterfly Ginger Extract & Iron Oxides

Wild butterfly ginger extract is an excellent ingredient to help block blue light, as well as iron oxides, which Dr. Farber says is another great ingredient to help ward off blue light. “Iron oxides help protect against the UV and visible light spectrum,” she says. A lot of mineral sunscreens with tints contain iron oxides.

The bottom line:

Blue light is all around us, and it’s important to protect our skin from the damage it can cause. Fortunately, there is sophisticated, high-quality SPF out there that can help shield your skin from it, without compromising anything in the process.

+How do you protect yourself from blue light? Share your tips in the comments!